Internet entrepreneur Greg Selkoe doesn’t expect to make a dime from his latest project. But he hopes to make people feel safer, by helping citizens transmit video of their encounters with police.
Selkoe is cocreator of Safecaster, a free app, available only for Apple iOS devices, that lets a user instantly capture video, transmit it live to a friend or family member, and record it on an Internet-based server. While the app can be used in any situation, Selkoe created it especially for people who want a video and audio record of their interactions with police.
“The thinking behind the app is really about transparency. It’s not about trying to catch the police,” said Selkoe. “It really needs to be somewhat of a neutral thing, with the idea that it’s going to provide safety to both sides of the equation.”
Selkoe said Safecaster was inspired by a recent spate of controversial shootings of black men by police officers. In July, an unarmed man, Alton Sterling, was shot while being subdued by two officers in Baton Rouge, La. The following day, Philando Castile was shot to death by a police officer in a suburb of St. Paul. In the Castile case, his girlfriend broadcast video of his death using the live video feature of the Facebook social network.
The American Civil Liberties Union also has a video recording app, called Mobile Justice, to be used for encounters with police. But unlike Facebook Live or Mobile Justice, Safecaster has a feature that directly sends the live video feed, via text or e-mail, to selected friends or acquaintances whenever the app is activated.
These people receive a link that lets them instantly view live video from the Safecaster user’s phone. The video is also uploaded to cloud-based server run by Safecaster, where it remains for 24 hours. A link to the video can also be e-mailed to a friend, who can view or download it. And the link also displays a Google map showing where the video was recorded.
Selkoe said users should tell police they are recording the interaction. “You don’t have to, but we encourage you to, because the goal is primarily to everyone get out safe.”
Neither the Boston Police Department, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, nor the Massachusetts chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police responded to requests for comment about the Safecaster app.
Caitriona Fitzgerald, state policy coordinator for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a high-tech civil liberties group, said Massachusetts law allows citizens to openly record police.
Fitzgerald cited a 2011 case in which a federal appeals court held that Boston police had no right to arrest a man who had recorded video of the police striking another man on Boston Common.
But, Fitzgerald added, “there’s just a question about whether you can secretly do it.” The ACLU in June filed a federal lawsuit challenging a Massachusetts law that makes it illegal to secretly record someone’s activities.
The ACLU wants an exception in the law to allow citizens to record the on-duty activities of police officers without first notifying them.
The ACLU’s Mobile Justice app has so far been adopted by its local chapters in 17 states and the District of Columbia, but not in Massachusetts.
Selkoe’s first big business venture, the Boston-based online specialty clothing retailer Karmaloop, grew to more than $100 million in annual revenue, but then foundered under the weight of excessive debt. Karmaloop filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 2015 and Selkoe left the firm. The company was bought by online retailer Shiekh Shoes, and its operations have since moved to Ontario, Calif.
Since then, Selkoe has teamed up with Silicon Valley investor Paul Judge to launch yet another online clothing retailer, Curateurs.com . They also acquired an Amsterdam-based clothing website, Looklive.com.
Selkoe said Safecaster has other uses — his wife activates it when walking home at night. But his main goal is for Safecaster to help keep the peace between police and the public.